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CRSC, first major Hong Kong IPO since rout, stalls on debut

Isaac Lawrence | AFP | Getty Images

Hong Kong's first major initial public offering (IPO) to brave the market since the depths of the China market rout opened nearly flat on debut Friday.

Shares of China Railway Signal & Communication Corp. (CRSC) hovered around their 6.30 Hong Kong dollar IPO price, trading in a tight HK$6.29-HK$6.38 range, before ending at HK$6.32. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index (HSI) ended up 0.7 percent.

CRSC, which provides railway signaling and communications technology and services, had priced its 1.75 billion new shares, or about 20 percent of the company's enlarged capital, at the bottom of the HK$6.30-HK$8.00 indicative range. The IPO raised around$1.4 billion.

"This stock is hugely undersubscribed. There's nothing you can expect on the debut," noted Dickie Wong, executive director at Kingston Securities. He expects the IPO is benefiting from buyers who will step in just under the IPO price.

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Typically, investors would chase China IPOs higher as gains are seen as a sure bet, but China-related shares have faced a souring of sentiment since mainland stock indexes plunged around 30 percent from their peaks in mid-June. The HSI is down around 15 percent from its late-May peak.

As part of efforts to stabilize mainland markets, regulators in China have suspended IPOs, which may push Chinese companies toward listing in Hong Kong; it isn't clear when mainland IPOs will be allowed to resume.

"They have to gain back the confidence of the retail investor in China as well as stabilize the market," Paul Pong, managing director at Pegasus Fund Managers, told CNBC. Until then, "there will continue to be a lot of Chinese companies coming to Hong Kong to list even though the market is not as good as before. But still, this is a very good place to do an IPO," Pong said.

Hong Kong's stock exchange is expecting to see the flows.

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"I think our IPO market for the second half will be quite strong," said Charles Li, the HKEx CEO, at a press conference. With the mainland IPO pipeline stopped up, "we will continue to see new flows coming in -- not only the ones that wanted to be here in the first place. We probably will be seeing more, other companies that are making a decision that are not able to alternatively access the domestic market may actually switch."

CRSC's offering is Hong Kong's fourth largest this year. In May, Huatai Securities, China's largest stock brokerage by trading volume, raised $4.5 billion, Legend Holdings, the parent company of computer maker Lenovo Group, raised around $2 billion in June and GF Securities raised around $3.6 billion in an April IPO.

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1